Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Class and court reporting

The BBC reports that a man has been jailed for a year for grabbing a helicopter as it took off. This particular bit of my reporting caught my eye:

Sentencing Jafari, Judge Michael Roach said it was a "deliberate and much more a reckless and dangerous act" and, despite the fact he was a business and family man, he had "no choice" other than to send him to prison.

From that reporting, it sounds like, had Jafari been working-class from an inner-city area with a bad reputation (let's ignore the implausibility of anyone with that background being able to have a helicopter land close enough to grab even if they wanted to) rather than a millionaire in an extremely expensive part of Bristol, a custodial sentence would have been much more obvious. Looking at some of the other reporting of the case, though - Metro, Bristol Evening Post, Daily Mail - that's not actually what was said.

But sentencing yesterday, at Bristol Crown Court, Judge Michael Roach told Jafari: ‘Grabbing the right-hand skid on take off was very dangerous and was liable to destabilise the aircraft which had only risen 6ft off the ground. In my judgement your behaviour was deliberate and reckless.

‘You are an intelligent, resourceful man who on this particular occasion let your temper get the better of you and you acted in a dangerous manner. In my judgement the case is too serious to justify a suspended sentence.’

He ordered Jafari to pay £2,800 in costs. ‘There is no reason, it seems to me, why the public should bear the expense.’

No reference to him being a business or family man at all in the judge's words.

So where is the - and it's not in quotes, so it's not directly from his words - BBC's assertion that the sentencing was "despite [him being] a business and family man", rather than in the judge's actual words "[because] the case is too serious to justify a suspended sentence" coming from?.

The judge does refer to Jafari as "intelligent, resourceful" but that's not at all the same thing; furthermore the judge does not put these characteristics forward as a reason for a more lenient sentence (if anything, they're part of the reason to require costs be paid, which the BBC doesn't mention).

So the judge doesn't appear to believe that sentencing should depend on social class, but some of the BBC's writers do.